I spent part of the morning talking to one of the people who'd worked with Fuller in 1970s at Southern Illinois University, and learned quite a bit about Fuller's use of paper spaces.
As he recalled, there were about fifty people working in Carbondale that summer, and they were all in a 30-foot geodesic dome on campus.
We had a big Dymaxion map of the world in the center. You had to take your shoes off before you walked on it.
We would have certain teams assigned to different parts of the dome, and we'd put our stuff there and it would be our. The map was common space, and you'd have people meeting on it. There were things representing oil, coffee, water, energy, and other resources on the map. You'd walk the planet with other people and say, "what if you did this?" and move the tokens around. That's where all the collaboration would happen. People would meet there, would move resources around the planet. There was a great kinesthetic element to it.
There were people who didn't know Fuller or his work in detail, but what grounded us was being in the dome, and the Dymaxion Map. It was a transformative environment, one that opened you up to thinking in new ways. You would look at a Mercator projection of the world, and the Dymaxion map, and it would be like "Wow! The fog is raised from my eyes." You were put in an exploratory frame of mind, because something you'd seen all your life was transformed: you could see the world in a different way.
Is there are better example ever of a space that better combines media, architecture, and symbolism? Meeting with other groups on a giant map of the earth. Effectively turning the planet into a collaborative space. Even having to take your shoes off– an act of respect in many cultures– before you walked on the earth.
My plan with this article is to talk about the World Map and a couple other things as examples of paper spaces, to complement the expert workshops case, and then to talk more broadly about the long history of paper spaces– essentially to bring an HCI and architectural history sensibility to the history of the book and scholarship. Watch this space.